The G-File

If I Had a Hammer

Dear Reader (unless of course, you can’t read this now because you’re in a Red Lobster-biscuit coma),

Okay, I want to apologize in advance for today’s G-File. I’m not making excuses (“Actually, I know for a fact that is exactly what you are doing, but go on.” — The Couch).

Last night started fine. My wife and daughter are out of town and so Cosmo the Wonderdog and I settled in for a man’s night. An added bonus: Sharknado was on SyFy! Oh, and I don’t mean the smarmy BBC version that all the hipsters claim to prefer. I mean the American version. You know, the one lacking any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Now, if you don’t know what Sharknado is, you’re part of the problem. But to sum up: It’s a “movie” about a freaky weather event (caused by global warming, of course) that results in sharks being swept up by first a hurricane and then a series of tornados, and then the sharks rain down on Los Angeles with a grim determination to eat anyone in their path. Amazingly, that premise is actually wildly more plausible than the execution. The whole movie was like one of those kids’ placemat games where you have to spot “What’s Wrong with This Picture?” To set out to identify the most ridiculous scene, the worst acting, or the dumbest dialogue of the movie is to march along the edge of a Mobius strip of stupidity toward madness.

But look, I’m not going to sit here and attempt to justify a movie about swirling cyclones of sharks laying waste to people so stupid they should write “TGIF” on their sneakers to remember that the toes go in first. Suffice it to say if you spent the same two hours huffing airplane glue while sitting in your garage with the car running and the doors closed, you would have emerged two hours later having lost fewer IQ points than we happy few watching Sharknado. I am reminded of this classic bit of dialogue from Billy Madison.

Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Oh, so what was I getting at? Oh yeah. So after drinking a few too many cocktails to numb the pain and erase the shame of actually live-tweeting Sharknado (a list of some of my tweets can be found over at the right-wing nerd’s place), I got up to go to bed, only to see the lightning and thunder roll in. While Cosmo the Wonderdog has no fear of sharknados, he does fear thunder something fierce. (Yes, we tried a thundershirt. It worked a couple times, but its half-life was fast.) I slept on the couch (not that one) to keep Cosmo company, which unfortunately meant having him douse me in hot panicky doggie-breath from about midnight to 4 AM. So I am very, very, very tired and can make no promises or representations about the quality of this week’s “News”letter.


If I Had a Hammer . . .

One of my favorite sayings is, “Jonah Goldberg! You have won Powerball!” Alas, I so rarely hear it used correctly. Another saying I like, but not nearly as much: “When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” I think this provides a great insight into human nature. I couldn’t find the clip where Homer Simpson uses a gun to open a bottle of beer to help illustrate the point, so instead I’ll just talk about Europe, which is often almost as funny. One of the reasons why Europeans think every problem has a diplomatic solution is that they have no other tools in their belt. With the exception of Britain, no Western European country (and the Brits ain’t European) has the military might to do much of anything outside of its borders. Sure, the French have an expeditionary force they can use to extract their citizens from hotspots — usually former colonies the French messed up in the first place — but beyond that none of them can really project power for very long, and, besides, I’m not here to discuss force structure in Europe; I’m just trying to illustrate a point, so cut me some slack.

Let me put it another way. In my first week at NR, I was taught that when you go to a new prison for the first time, the rule of thumb is that you should find the biggest guy you can and beat him up so as to prove you’re not to be trifled with. (This always struck me as akin to the apparently real advice to punch a shark in the nose if it’s coming to eat you. Easier said than done.) But imagine that fighting’s not an option. Imagine you’re in prison and a whole gang surrounds you. Unless you’re the sort of guy who can successfully transform into a helicopter of fists, there’s no way violence will do the trick. So, you’re next best option is to try to talk the gang out of their stated intentions. You might say to Bubba, “Can you believe they killed off Matthew Crawley at the end of Downton Abbey?” Or you might try to find common cause with a fellow named Bone Mulcher: “I must say I’m really happy with this new no-load mutual fund.”

Assuming you make it out of that situation with your pancreas in its proper place and having avoided being forced to dance the Lambada — The Forbidden Dance® — you might actually take away the lesson that talking is always the best option because it works for you. But at some point you’ll be wrong. At some point you’ll be in a predicament that isn’t a nail and all you can do is hammer the air as sharks rain down on you from the sky.

(Various critics of American foreign policy make the reverse point. If you have the ability to fight, eventually you think fighting is the answer when it ain’t — actually, the Homer Simpson clip would work better here, again, if I could find it. In principle, I think that’s undoubtedly true. But that’s a slightly different point, insofar as the ability to fight also makes your talk more effective.)


Obama’s Hammer

That came to mind while writing today’s — admittedly odd — column. I was terribly pressed for time and writing the column the way I planned was out of the question, so instead I had to get a little G-Filey.

The column I intended to write was going to have lots of data and historical allusions to Walter Lippmann’s Drift and Mastery and the century-old progressive tendency to look to business for revolutionary “best practices” — Taylorism, Fordism, TQM, behavioral economics, Six Sigma, and seven different flavors of shinola — to bring into government. (Note: It’s a progressive tendency, but it’s also a bipartisan one. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard Newt Gingrich talk about FedEx as the redeemer of Western Civilization.) Beneath all of it is the idea that if planners can just get enough data — if they can clock, measure, weigh, and grok enough about the citizenry — the planners will be able to use that insight to sculpt the clay of the masses into a form to the planners’ liking. The “drift” of economic freedom will give way to the mastery of a government empowered by the scientific method. Once you make society legible, you can start cutting and pasting.  

But there is one point I think bears emphasizing. For years, Obama’s critics have complained that Obama wasn’t ready for the job of president, that he had too little experience and what experience he did have did not suit the job. We’ve complained about his permanent campaign mentality, about his “more cowbell” approach to politics (which I believe I started). Many critics, including more than a few on the left, have noted that the man seems to like the trappings and pomp of the job more than the job itself. He’s certainly more comfortable on the hustings talking to throngs of his fans than he is in a room negotiating with members of Congress.

Remember in 2008 when Obama was asked about his executive experience compared to Sarah Palin’s? He responded:   

Well, you know, my understanding is that, uh, Governor Palin’s town of Wasilly [sic] has, uh, 50 employees, uh, uh, we’ve got 2500, uh, in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. Uh, uh, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month. Uh, so I think that, uh, our ability to manage large systems, uh, and to, uh, execute, uh, I think has been made clear over the last couple of years.

And then of course there was the decision to keep his campaign intact, turning it into an IRS-approved (naturally) social-welfare organization dedicated to the president’s agenda, nothing more, nothing less. You’d think Obama’s fetishization and obsession with his campaign would end there. I mean where else could it go? Well, now we know. He actually wants the government to work like his campaign. I know I have Moral Equivalent of War on the brain, but I find this disturbing. Presidential campaigns are autocratic. The candidate may or may not run things, but he is ultimately in charge and there are no checks and balances. Building a cult of personality around the candidate isn’t necessary the ultimate mission of the campaign, but I think in Obama’s case it was certainly one of the things he liked the most. Basically, the presidential campaign is Obama’s hammer and he wants to turn as many things as possible into nails.

It’s no surprise that a guy who is constantly wishing Americans would act like an obedient army, rallying around the government during a crisis, would grow nostalgic for the power and flexibility of a presidential campaign. Nor do I find it shocking that a guy who thinks presidential leadership boils down to constantly campaigning for a job he already has would like to see the lines between campaigning and governing blur even more. But I guess I’m still capable of being offended when he says this junk out loud.


Paula Deen in the School-House Door

Last week I wrote a column about how many liberals simply cannot come to grips with the fact that Jim Crow is gone and that we’re not a racist country anymore. Their collective freak-out over the court’s Voting Rights Act ruling and the media’s transparent frustration with the fact that George Zimmerman isn’t a Klansman is a sign that a cherished narrative is disintegrating before their eyes. I thought the column was fine. It’s not exactly a new point, though. 

I’ve gotten a lot of angry and nasty blowback about it. But what I find really amazing is the condescending certainty from liberals who are sure that I am wrong. They keep citing Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin as proof Jim Crow is alive and well. Um. Paula Deen is a kitchsy TV cook who supported President Obama — you know, the guy who just happens to be the first black president of the United States. The parallels to Jim Crow are obvious!


The Evils of Right-wing Money

I think this is pretty fascinating. You know all that stuff about the Koch brothers pouring money into our politics? You know all that hoo-ha about Citizens United opening the floodgates for rivers of corporate money that will drown the poor and disenfranchised? Well, here’s a list of the top all-time donors from 1989 to 2012. In the top 20, 14 lean Democratic, two lean Republican. The Republicans appear in slots 18 and 19, by the way. Oh, and Koch Industries? That behemoth trampling democracy? It’s the 62nd biggest donor. The horror!


Various & Sundry

(Since I don’t much like today’s G-File, I will give you some extra various and sundry.)

While racial progress is something I am very happy for, let’s also agree that not every change over the last half century has been for the better.

But some changes have been for the better. Behold the In-N-Out Burger’s secret monkey-style burger.

An interview with the writer of Sharknado. Excerpt:

Why a tornado and not a hurricane? Wouldn’t that make more sense?

Actually, we have both. In the movie an unprecedented hurricane sweeps up the Pacific coast from Mexico towards L.A. driving all the sharks in this part of the ocean before it. The hurricane floods the streets of L.A., which is woefully unprepared for a hurricane. (Up to this point, it’s all fairly accurate and something we should be thinking about, disaster preparedness-wise). Naturally these floodwaters are filled with sharks! And then, as often happens, the hurricane spins off tornadoes over the ocean. As anyone would expect, the tornadoes suck up thousands of sharks. This all just seems like common sense to me . . .

Awesome old Kodachromes. Click on the images to make them larger.

Awesomer pics of the Empire State Building getting built.

Five myths about ancient civilizations (oddly, I was saddened to learn that Romans weren’t all that in to orgies).

What if Congress got stuff done like roommates?

This takes testicular fortitude. Man runs Death Valley dressed as Darth Vader.

Speaking of testicular fortitude, here’s an explainer on testicular fortification, as it were.

Egyptian turmoil explained via Jurassic Park.

Kitten brought back to life by firefighter. I hope that guy is single, because that’s gold with the ladies.

If you followed me on Twitter, you’d already know about the soccer ref beheaded and quartered for killing a player.

Speaking of things that escalated too quickly, 15 things that escalated too quickly.


Salt ain’t bad for you! I knew it.

You know those Guy Fawkes masks worn by pretentious anti-globalization dipwads? Save this picture for the right occasion. You’ll thank me later.

Here I am moderating a panel!

Ten Movies to watch if you loved Sharknado.

22 odd ads from the 1910 National Geographic

Debby’s Odd Link List!


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